My days with Windows Media Center are numbered

With Microsoft shifting Media Center to a legacy product, I too will be moving on soon. Looking back, Windows Media Center has had a good run in my house. It served my input-one well on every TV in my house for almost four years, something no other DVR has ever managed to do — I had the original HD DirecTiVo for just over two years and a couple of Series3 TiVos for about a year and a half. What’s sad is that even after four years, no other DVR manufacturer has surpassed it in my eyes, yet. I do suspect that is about to change, hence this post, but I’m not sure if it’ll be DirecTV’s new HR34 or a TiVo Elite and a couple of TiVo Previews.

What’s motivating me to change:

  • A supported two-way IP control interface with documented API
  • A great iPad app for DVR management and content discovery
  • Remote scheduling
  • Reliability
Media Center features that I can’t live without:
  • An enjoyable and attractive user experience
  • True whole home DVR functionality
  • At least 4 tuners
  • At least 1TB of disk space
  • Access to premium HD content
Honestly, I’m leaning towards TiVo because although the HD UI might not ever be completed, the focus on the discovery of new content appeals to me. In addition, it means I can keep FiOS TV which I’m a fan of its package prices and superior picture quality (when compared to DirecTV). On the other hand, DirecTV works with RVU TVs, integrates DirecTV VOD and is already shipping (no Preview, no dice). At the same time I don’t care for DirecTV’s “lease” model and would prefer to just buy the hardware — at least I know what I’m getting.
It really is sad because I do think the user interface experience is superior on Media Center, but in the end dependability and new features trump it.

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79 Responses to “My days with Windows Media Center are numbered”

  1. Anthony says:

    I’m also waiting on the TiVo Preview units to be launched before I examine what DVR solution to buy next. The DirecTV whole home DVR looks enticing, but buying a bunch of new RVU TVs to support it isn’t. The Preview might work, but I don’t like having to pay for cablecards and “extra outlet fees” for each TV. I was looking at TV from my local phone company too (Centurylink Prism) but they can only supply my house with 1 HD stream at a time due to my DSLAM loop distance so thats out of the running.

    • Ben Drawbaugh says:

      DirecTV works with extenders too and even the RVU TVs have an outlet fee of $6 plus the multi-room fee. I have more faith in TiVo than DirecTV in making a good UI and TiVo has more over-the-top services, but no VOD. Nothing worth owning is cheap, so I try to focus on the features first and the price second.

  2. Zatz says:

    Reasonable plan… But there’s no telling when or if the TiVo Preview will come to retail and with what sort of fees.

    • Ben Drawbaugh says:

      Fees are one thing, but can you imagine a scenario where the Preview isn’t released to consumers in 2012?

  3. David says:

    In my house I have two series 3 Tivos and just added a media center pc with a Hauppauge cable card tuner. I upgraded 1 Tivo to 1gb. I found the media center setup surprisingly easy and the cable card tuner is stronger than the Tivo’s. I don’t think you would get much by switching to Tivo. Do you really think you would use the iPad app that much? The content discovery focus is a good idea, but I don’t see a really strong implementation. I returned a Tivo premiere since it was hardly an upgrade. I bought one for my parents. Tivo’s big advantage is reliability and power consumption. However, if your system is already working what is the point?

    Directv is a nice idea, but it would probably end up costing you a lot since you are probably still going to keep fios internet.

    • Ben Drawbaugh says:

      The iPad app is only one of four reasons I mentioned and I had two series3s before and that I wouldn’t switch back to. I’ll only switch to TiVo if they release the Preview to consumers.

  4. Alton Marschall says:

    Ben I switched from Media Center to Tivo because of time constrains at home and I can tell you the over the top experience on Tivo is garbage. Its so slow and cumbersome to use I find it easier to just switch inputs.

    • Ben Drawbaugh says:

      I can see that, which is part of the reason I didn’t list it in my motivations to switch.

  5. Jason says:

    Ben, will be interested in seeing which direction you take. I have no desire to watch TV on am iPad or iPhone, but I need 4 HD tuners, download from rss nzb scheduling, mkv playback (RW and FF if possible), commercial scanning and remote scheduling. Having these features in Win 7 along with a fully function computer with RDP will be hard to beat. Impossible?

    • Ben Drawbaugh says:

      I also have little use for watching video on the iPad. But I do find it very useful as a companion device to learn about shows I’m watching and discovering other shows I might like. Not to mention doing DVR maintenance while letting others watch TV. Another big one for me is the ip control, really sucks that Media Center and its extenders never had that built-in. Personally I has little us for less than legit video sources, but I do wonder what are using for remote scheduling, I really hope you don’t say potato.

  6. Jod says:

    Unfortunate to hear. There is supposed to be a version for Windows 8 but it might be a seperate download. Or at least that was the last rumor I heard. We shall see in Feb when Windows 8 Beta arrives.

  7. Brennok says:

    I must say the remote management of TiVo spoiled me and it is one of the big reasons I never got into Media Center. I can’t remember the last time I actually managed anything other than maybe my channel lineup on my TiVos. The rest I either do through the iPad app or via KMTTG on my PCs now that it has most of the functionality of the iPad app. Combine this with PyTiVo and I can play pretty much anything on my TiVos.

  8. Justin says:

    I’m sad Microsoft is finally giving up on improving media center. I used it for a while and then used MythTV for years for a couple of those reasons (remote scheduling, etc.). I think my future lies in one of the streaming set top boxes (Apple or Google TV) with a decent antenna.
    Lucky for me I don’t need premium channels and at this point it’s all about saving some money.

  9. Tim says:

    I’m using my Roku like an extender for my Series 3 Tivo. I use kmttg to pull shows off my Series 3 Tivo, decode them, cut the commercials, and reencode the videos. They get hosted on a server. I installed the Roksbox channel on my Roku and point it to my server. Now I can stream whatever shows were recorded on the Tivo, through the Roku. It’s a great setup. I just wish there was a way I could delete shows off the server through the Roksbox interface.

    • Ben Drawbaugh says:

      It seems that scheduling a recording from all your TVs would be a requirement as well, not to mention live TV. I don’t know how many time I’ve started watching a football game in my living room and then finished it in bed.

  10. Jim Mallory says:

    Ben, what’s your issue with Remote Potato? I use it and seems to work well enough on both my iOS device (iPhone) and my Android Tablet (Galaxy Tab). Before that I used just RDP into the HTPC from my iPhone.

    If you are using MCE as just a DVR, I don’t have any arguments with your points. But if you add MyMovies or Media Browser, have your music and photos on it, extenders throughout the house, etc. plus the advantages of MCE being on a PC platform, (Flexibility in Tuner and Storage configuration lots of storage, especially if combined with WHS). It’s hard to imagine any kind of CE device (Tivo, provider supplied DVR) being able to compete features wise.

    As for MCE being legacy status…personally, I have no big issue with that as long as that means that the code is being actively maintained. I have been using MCE since XP and Microsoft is getting much better about not having Media Center and/or Windows Updates breaking MCE than they did in the XP and Vista days. That should be a looked at as a positive.

    • Ben Drawbaugh says:

      My problem with Remote Potato is that the guide is extremely slow, when it works at all.

      I only use MC as a DVR, I don’t use any of those other features.

      You think the MC code is being actively maintained. I’m no dev, but I’d think that would mean bug fixes and I can’t recall the last time there was an update for MC and lord knows there are plenty of known bugs.

  11. Sam Biller says:

    I think 2012 will be the year that TiVo re-establishes itself in the US as the premium Hybrid DVR platform. This will bring the software on the Premiere platform to a level equivalent to the VMED experience in the UK.

    The retail Preview is still a bit of an unknown. My theory, and I haven’t heard anyone refute it, is the retail Preview is waiting on additional software to allow streaming of OTT services like Amazon without the hard drive. There are also some software tweaks that RCN has requested on the Preview related to remotely starting recordings to allow the equivalent of a pause on Preview.

    As you’ve expressed a number of times on your podcast, the key to a successful Preview is to make the experience as close to the normal DVR as possible. Its a key frustration when I use a VZ FiOS extender running 1.9 software that I can’t pause live TV.

    Its also unclear whether a CableCARD is required or optional on the Preview. It would be ideal if the retail Preview would be supported without a CableCARD although in my case I would pay the $2.95/mo from Bright House for a CableCARD.

    • Ben Drawbaugh says:

      Great points, and I suspect the Preview will not require a CableCARD, but at the same time won’t provide the same experience without it.

      TiVo does seem to have the best solution, once the Preview is released, but the lack of complete HD guide and bad channels numbers go to DirecTV with the advantage.

  12. Lithium630 says:

    I may be setting myself up for disappointment (again) but I’m still holding out hope for some improvements in Windows 8. Maybe even a rewrite. I understand the pessimism but I think it is premature.

    • Ben Drawbaugh says:

      I wish I shared you optimism but I knew a number of people on the MC team and all of them have moved to other products. Microsoft even renamed the MVPs. Even The Media Center show was renamed. The only remaining hope was embedded and it has been over a year since we’ve heard a peep about it. Then the screen shots of win8 show the same 7mc we’ve had for years. I see no reason to believe MC will see any further development.

  13. Brennok says:

    Is the advantage of Directv’s HD guide which hopefully TiVo will address in their upcoming major update and extenders worth the extra cost though? I know when I had DirecTV and FiOS for internet, my monthly bills were easily $100 more a month than my FiOS bill with TV and internet. Hell my DirecTV bill alone with only SD cost me more than I now pay FiOS for 35/35, Ultimate TV, and 5 CableCARDS.

    • Ben Drawbaugh says:

      Cost is a secondary concern. I use tv so much for work and pleasure I don’t bother with a value or roi analysis. I’m primarily concerned with having the best experience, even if it is the most expensive.

  14. Wayne says:

    The best solution to your requirements is SageTV with a couple of HD-PVRs or Colossus. But unfortunately that is now legacy as well. The Sage extenders were the best whole home solution out there and the Sage7 UI fixed the UI shortcomings it had in the past.

    • Ben Drawbaugh says:

      I disagree. The sage tv solution was too complex and the user interface experience left a lot to be desired. It was really a geeks experience, not something meant for normal people.

  15. Jon Deutsch says:

    Hi Ben,

    Sad to hear you’re leaving us. I share your frustration and bummeration around the lack of WMC investment or care within MSFT.

    However, I’m not leaving. Instead, I’m adjuncting. In fact, this weekend I’ve invested in configuring and optimizing XMBC to be my “discovery/streaming” subsystem, which is just a click away within the solid and (at least in my case) reliable WMC. I’ll be using XMBC for YouTube, Pandora, LastFM and other on-line sources. No, it won’t have the same UI (bummer), but it will all work via the same universal remote with little/no training required for anyone in the house to use.

    If you only use WMC as a DVR, then you’re not losing much by going to TiVo. But if you’re like me and use it for far more – including music, photos, home videos, video podcasts, and access to SiriusXM stations, etc., then it’s a bit more difficult to leave since it does all those things so nicely.

    What’s been hard for me is watching MSFT sit on a golden egg for years and not invest seriously in discovery services and/or media streaming apps/extensions in the framework. Similarly, MSFT’s bulldozing of TGB forum was a hatchet job worthy of only the lamest management team decisions.

    If *only* MSFT would have enabled an app store for WMC, and if *only* they developed a real HTPC hardware spec for OEMs, and if *only* OEMs had the vision and ability to pre-configure a WMC box so that when you bought it from BestBuy, you powered it up like a TiVo box and away you went…. THEN we’d have something to write home about and to recommend to our friends and family.

    All that being said, I’m still quite happy being the guy who can work all this stuff out on his own so he can have a unique and amazing whole-home media experience that virtually nobody else has the patience and/or wherewithal to enable.

    • Ben Drawbaugh says:

      Actually I think Microsoft gave it everything they’ve got and it was the 3rd parties that weren’t willing to play with the PC. That is why I think embedded held so much promise and why the Xbox Dashboard has more partners than MC had in years. The problem is that no one in the TV industry took the PC seriously as a living room device. The reality is that the DVR’s days are numbered and Microsoft is already looking forward to the next step. What’s really sad is that the Xbox Dashboard is also going to be another fail and the TV landscape doesn’t look all that much different than it did 5 years ago.

      We’re all still waiting for a game changer, not sure if 2012 will bring it.

  16. Jon Deutsch says:

    And then there’s Windows 8 and WMC.

    I agree with you that it looks likely that very little innovation will be happening with WMC and Win8. A real shame!

    However, I am holding out hope for something maybe even cooler: That Win8’s metro-tiles will not only be remote-controllable, but that they will enable very easy 10-foot experiences for the most popular apps — like Pandora, lastFM, YouTube, Vimeo, NetFlix, etc.

    And, if that’s the case, then Win8 may in and of itself become an interesting media center front-end, where the core WMC becomes primarily the DVR bit, and the rest of the Metro apps become the things that WMC traditionally has needed to be in its own interface.

    If you think about, Metro is really an evolution of the WMC UI anyway, so why not see Win8 as the inside-out-ing of WMC? Where the entire OS can become a media center UI?



    • Ben Drawbaugh says:

      I disagree that a touch screen UI will be remote friendly. I admit it might be interesting, but just don’t see how a touchscreen UI will be enjoyable to use with a remote. The other problem is that Metro is a evolution of the MC UI which means it isn’t the MC UI. Running 7MC via Metro doesn’t seem like a very elegant solution. Switching UIs is almost as jarring as switching inputs, so why not just switch to the Xbox Dashboard? I guess one reason not to is because the Xbox is optimized for a game control and/or Kinect, which I also don’t find very enjoyable in the living room.

  17. Lithium630 says:

    Just seems like the wrong time for M$ to give up on it. Cable card tuners are fantastic, PC hardware is cheaper than ever and the Xbox is a better extender than ever. The lack of a media center button on the new Xbox remote concerns me along with the fact that Media is hard to find on the new interface. So to stay positive I think a big change is coming.

    • Ben Drawbaugh says:

      You optimism is amazing. Typically I’m the eternal optimist, but in this case I don’t see Microsoft coming out ahead. Pending a surprise MC embedded product actually making it to market, I don’t see any hope for Microsoft in the TV space in the coming years.

  18. Lithium630 says:

    Jon that’s kind of what I was alluding to. In fact I think it would be a big step forward because it could be much easier to develope apps for than MCML. Since Windows 8 can run on ARM processors custom extender like boxes could be cheaper and better.

  19. Lithium630 says:

    If I was going to build an embedded box I would want to know what changes were coming windows 8. Windows embedded could be moot if 8 can run on arm anyway

  20. Brennok says:

    I can understand ROI not being as important as the experience. I guess for me you couldn’t pay me to go back to DirecTV. Any DVR that limits how many season passes you can have, is a DVR that will never be my DVR. Also one extra tuner at the loss of 1TB isn’t worth it to when comparing it to the Elite.

    Oh well I wish you luck. TiVo does everything I need. I constantly play content from my server and can play just about every file type I need using PyTiVo. I remote manage every TiVo from my iPad, my PC, or I don’t need extenders though since every TV has a TiVo though I also have a 360 at each one also. I don’t care about a HD Guide since I have never used the guide since I got my first TiVo. About the only improvement 7MC offers that I miss with TiVo is the conflict management but with the Elite this is less of an issue.

    • Ben Drawbaugh says:

      I’m leaning toward TiVo, but with the release date of the Preview unknown and the HR34 being available now, it makes it a more difficult question. That being said, I really really hate the DirecTV “lease.”

  21. Jon Deutsch says:

    Lithium630: Yeah, that’s right. The Win8 widgets/tiles seem like an ideal 10ft interface opportunity. A big Windows Phone in my family room doesn’t seem all that 1/2 bad frankly.

    All MSFT would have to do then is to degregate WMC into a straight DVR “app/tile” in Win8, and let 3rd parties handle all the photo, video, podcast management via HTML5 and whatever else Win8 tiles support dev-wise.

    So, imagine, you have a “media center” group of tiles on Win8, and you just remote control across the tiles (just like you do within WMC today, even though they’re not exactly ’tiles” – they’re essentially the same thing!) and launch the app that does what you need it to do, like:

    Music Library
    Video Library
    My Movies (i.e., binnerup makes a MyMovies Win8 Tile)
    Podcasts (a rich Win8 RSS reader built by some 3rd party)

    etc., etc.,

    Now what we see is a fully extensible media OS that is just a quarantined “media area” within the new Win8 interface! No? I’m thinking Yes.

    The key is just for MSFT to keep WMC around, and hopefully disassemble its bits into Tiles. I say to MSFT: break WMC into pieces, and let it be features of Win8 instead of Windows Media Center!

    • Ben Drawbaugh says:

      That’s quite a picture you are painting, but really doesn’t address the four main reasons I’m thinking of moving on. I hope you are right though.

  22. Jon Deutsch says:


    Your motivating factors are…

    – A supported two-way IP control interface with documented API
    – A great iPad app for DVR management and content discovery
    – Remote scheduling
    – Reliability


    Presuming so, then my thoughts on these:

    The two-way IP control doesn’t seem to be in the cards for WMC or even Win8. I’m presuming you desire this for iPad/iPhone control of your media system? And TiVo offers such a beast? And, have you already begun using your touch screen to control your media? I ask because I started out with a touch-screen remote over a decade ago (remember the Phillips touchscreen remotes?), and I decided after many years of wanting to love it, not loving a touch screen remote. I desire physical buttons so that I can control my media w/o looking at something.

    I totally get the discovery bit, but I for one would not want it on my iPad. I’d want it on my TV screen, with great data entry routines (WMC does a pretty good job with the T9-ish input approach, but it could be even better).

    Remote scheduling can be done either via Remote Potato or just using TeamViewer. Not entirely elegant, but remote scheduling is such a minor part of my DVR experience that I haven’t even bothered re-installing RP on my new WMC box.

    Reliability – interesting. I recall you saying this a while back too. I recently built a new WMC box using an SSD boot drive and a Ceton quad-tuner (Core i5, etc.) and it is remarkably stable. It feels like a STB now. I mean, it boots up into WMC in under 10 seconds, and the guide pops up instantly. It has never crashed. It has never slowed down. It’s great. Like all things MSFT (and Android, for that matter), having the right hardware is critical to a good experience.

    My two cents, FWIW.

    • Ben Drawbaugh says:

      I too had a pronto and also require a hard button remote, but the ip control is for my Crestron controller which I use with an ir remote. And yes both DirecTV and TiVo support ip control via controllers like Crestron.

      I’ve used the TiVo iPad app which is how I know I want one, would be surprised if DirecTV’s was as good.

      I’ve tried remote potato and rdp for scheduling and they are both worthless.

      I’ll give my wife your number and the next time MC crashes and I’m not home, you can walk her through force killing it over the phone. But now that I think of it. I haven’t reinstalled Windows since 7 went RTM in ’09.

  23. Sam Biller says:

    Do you really think the days of the DVR are numbered? I’m guessing my DVR will still be going strong as part of the television equation for at least the next 5 years. The on-demand experience doesn’t quite compare to the experience of playing back a recorded program. The gap is closing rapidly but I think it will be quite some time before we can eliminate the need for a DVR.

  24. Ben Drawbaugh says:

    Some people still use VCRs, of course DVRs will still be around for at least 5 more years. And at the rate TV is changing, nothing will really change in the next 5 years.

  25. Lithium630 says:

    I had trouble with reliability when I first build the system but the problems were hardware. That really killed the WAF until I could figure it out. Now it is more reliable than my Comcrap DVR was. I think nightly reboots help.

  26. Jon Deutsch says:

    Ben says:
    “I’ll give my wife your number and the next time MC crashes and I’m not home, you can walk her through force killing it over the phone. But now that I think of it. I haven’t reinstalled Windows since 7 went RTM in ’09.”

    So, OK, if this is really something that happens to you, then I’m amazed you’ve stuck with WMC so long! A DVR NEEDS TO BE RELIABLE. That’s it’s #1 responsibility. I, too, would kick it to the curb if it stopped working while I was away and I got an earful from my better half.

    I have had 3 WMC boxes (2 self-made, one purchased from HP), and in all seriousness, I’ve had maybe 5 shows total over the past 5 years not record as expected. And 4 out of 5 of those were easily re-playable via the Hulu shortcut I installed within WMC.

    I actually expect 0 shows to be lost, but I also recall my Comcast DVR box missing a show or two for the 2 years I used that. TiVo is probably reliable, and again, if all you do is DVR, then it makes a lot of sense to go purpose-built like TiVo. It’s only if you want to full-on media management (video, audio, streaming, podcasts, etc.,) would an HTPC really make a lot of sense these days.

    I’ve also read some interesting things about Verizon’s forthcoming whole-home media STBs. Are you looking at that too? It looks like that might actually compete favorably with WMC when/if it ever comes out.

    Lithium630: I really never reboot my Win7 x64 box. It. Just. Works. Perhaps the 8GB RAM and Core i5 w/128GB SSD helps make it purr?

    • Ben Drawbaugh says:

      Actually it never causes me to miss recordings, it is just the user shell that crashes. In light of our discussion yesterday I reinstalled and the only plugin I reinstalled was DTB add-in, so we’ll see if that fixes it.

      I’d be shocked if Verizon’s new box was out in 2012 and I also don’t expect it to be a consistent experience across screens, but we’ll see.

  27. Jon Deutsch says:

    It also helps that, conceptually, my HTPC is in a proper HTPC case that makes it look more like a high-end blu-ray player than some Frankenstein HTPC project. My goal has always been to see my HTPC as actually a STB that just happens to run WMC. I think I’ve hit that goal pretty good.

    What’s lacking for me is Microsoft’s inability to make it a strategic asset for their portfolio, which is why they’re not investing in streaming/discovery services — which totally sucks. I’d hate to have to go back to a two-device solution… like WMC + GoogleTV or Boxee/Roku. Yuk. The point for me has always been unified user experience.

    • Ben Drawbaugh says:

      I totally agree but with everyone seemingly wanting to write their own app I’m wondering if that’ll ever happen.

  28. Jim Mallory says:

    Ben said,

    “You think the MC code is being actively maintained. I’m no dev, but I’d think that would mean bug fixes and I can’t recall the last time there was an update for MC and lord knows there are plenty of known bugs.”

    I am no developer either but if you look at the product portfolio of any major software company, Microsoft, Apple, Cisco, etc. You will see literally millions of bug reports, most reproducible, that literally never seem to be fixed. I guess what I was getting at with “actively maintained” is that major bugs (those that affect most people in most common usage scenarios) get fixed.

    The problem with Media Center is that it is a “good” product that just can’t seem to make the leap to a “great” product. I mean name another DVR that can scale from a simple two-tuner ATSC scenario (can anyone else think of an ATSC DVR with a free guide) to a multiple source (with one being premium digital cable) 16-tuner scenario?

    My big wish for Windows 8 is that Microsoft gets rid of the arbitrary limits on tuners and extenders, with modern CPUs and motherboard I/O buses…you have the bandwidth to support large systems. If Microsoft wants to caveat that with they only support up to six tuners of each type and eight concurrent extenders, the rest is YMMV, I am OK with that. At the very least, give us the Advanced Entertainment Pack limits in Win 8 (six tuners of each type, eight concurrent extenders). If the Cable Companies get their wish and I can’t augment my four cablecard tuners with ClearQAM tuners…I am going to need more than one Ceton InfiniTV 4 in my system…and I would love to be able to do 8 or 12.

    Reliability, frankly since SP1, my system has been completely stable short of having to periodically reboot the stupid SDV Tuning Resolver box. I had some storage related issues but those were caused by poor choices made on my part and that I was able to finally get fixed during the holiday break. HTPCs need a lot of careful and thoughtful engineering to go from a good configuration that will mostly work to a great configuration that you need to be a true CE device. I suspect that is why the embedded boxes have never taken off. If you look at who was prototyping those boxes, it was a lot of Tier 1 / Tier 2 PC builders and at that end of the industry…they tend not to want to a lot of engineering but rather just slap parts together. That will never work. You really need a more boutique builder (like you see on the high end PC gaming side) that is willing to do the engineering and can charge the price premium for it.

    • Ben Drawbaugh says:

      I think the embedded never took off because Microsoft never shipped the update that enabled CableCARD support and asked their partners to wait for Win8. Only to find out that MC in Win8 is in the air completely.

  29. Jim Mallory says:

    and I meant to say…8 to 12 Cablecard tuners….not 8 to 12 InfiniTV 4s…though that would be pretty awesome.

    Another thought is that I think us in the Media Center community doesn’t look at MCE the way Microsoft does. In our world, the HTPC is the center of the connected home entertainment system and the XBOX is used to extend that into the periphery of the home. In Microsoft’s world, the XBOX is in the center and MCE is used as the way to get TV onto the XBOX.

  30. Jim Mallory says:

    Everything I have read states that MCE will be in Win 8 either as a built in app or available as an add in. Until MS can deliver a full over the top live TV experience that would replace my cable subscription, I suspect it will be. And if the ESPN3 app is any indication of what we should expect, it might be awhile for the masses to drop their cable.

  31. Blue Hens says:

    Ben, you will have to go back to hitting the button to skip commercials sounds like a lot of work.

    I have the TIVO for the family room and Media Center in my office. I love the IPad/Iphone App for the TIVO it is a great way of finding content. The Tivo to Go feature is so slow it is not use able for me.

    I access the Media Center from my Ipad (at home) I use SplashTop Remote Desktop ($5). Is it great for setting recordings no but it is pretty good.

    I would love to be able to see my converted (MP4) MCE shows on my TIVO but i have not been able to figure that one out yet.

  32. Jon Deutsch says:

    Good luck with WMC post-reinstall Ben. Honestly, the only time the user shell has ever crashed on me since Vista was released was when I installed ZeeVee TV a few years ago. Once I figured out that it was the culprit for instability, I uninstalled it, and the user shell has never crashed since. Not even a hiccup.

    And I have just about every plug-in and app you can install on WMC!

    I gotta also say for those sticking with WMC, go get that SSD boot drive. Frankly, it’s kind of trivial since I rarely ever reboot, but when I do, having WMC launch in about 10 seconds from cold boot seems like a modern miracle to me.

  33. Ben Drawbaugh says:

    Reinstall went great, everything is running faster and not a single crash (has only been 24 hours).

    I had an SSD, didn’t really notice a different since I never reboot my system. Was shocked that it didn’t make channel changes or trick play any faster.

  34. Jon Deutsch says:

    Ben – Good to hear that a reinstall is helping stability. Frankly, it should not ever, ever crash.

    FYI – the guide comes up much, much faster with SSD. Changing channel speed is a factor of the tuner, not WMC. What’s trick play?

    • Ben Drawbaugh says:

      I played with it when it first came out but since I don’t use MC to listen to Music, it wasn’t of much use to me.

  35. Jason Raneses says:

    This is a timely post, as I’ve came the same conclusion as well of late. When it came time to upgrade my aging TiVo Series 3 boxes, I decided to run a head to head comparison between the TiVo Premiere and a dedicated Windows Media Center server with the Ceton InfiniTV 4 and XBox 360 extenders in a few rooms.

    We’ve been largely a TiVo household the past 7 years, so anything slated to replace the veritable DVR of choice faced an uphill battle. However, considering the lackluster performance of the TiVo UI and a few other factors, everyone in the family was willing to humor the experiment.

    Overall, the WMC experience via the extenders was fairly impressive. I’ve run typical HTPCs in the past, yet this time around I truly wanted to test a dedicated client/server setup. With Microsoft’s plans for WMC up in the air, and the XBox getting steady updates, it seemed like a good middle ground. Unfortunately, that middle ground comes with compromises. From a usability standpoint, jumping back and forth between WMC and the XBox dashboard is not for everyone. I have patience for it to a point, with hope that Microsoft will eventually combine the two, but it’s probably wishful thinking. Functionally, everything works well, yet I still can’t help but feel it’s a dead end.

    TiVo has its own set of issues, but at least they have incentive to continue extending the platform. I don’t trust them to do it in a timely manner, but it will get there, eventually.

    • Ben Drawbaugh says:

      Switching between MC and the dashboard is very jarring and that is mostly because the dashboard apps are meant to be navigated with the game controller. Add on the Live Gold requirement and it is useless in my house.

      TiVo has promise but as it stands now MC still has the edge — even without the Xbox apps. When the Preview comes out, though, I expect that all to change.

  36. Ken P says:

    I am hoping MC is still around as my backup when SageTV no longer functions. MC is my fallback. Your post depresses me 🙁 If MC still works, and you have been happy with it, why not just stay with it until something better actually comes along, or it is no longer functional? I went through the same machinations when the sale of SageTV was announced, then calmed down, realized I still love SageTV, and decided to stick with it until it dies.

    Commercial skip and the extender model are the killer apps for me, so even the new extender solutions coming from Sat companies and TiVo don’t give me what my finely tuned SageTV system provides. Sadness.

    • Ben Drawbaugh says:

      It is functional and until someone else delivers a better solution, I’ll stay on MC. This is why I said the days were numbered instead of it being behind me. The reasons are the four points I mentioned before and it is more that other solutions become more compelling then it is that MC stops working. I can’t live without true multi-room, but I can live without automatic commercial skip.

  37. Josh Shenkle says:

    It’s a love hate relationship with Media Center for me, I love the interface, user experience, ease of setup, no month fees, ect…

    What kills me though is lack of development and support for flash and streaming services on extenders. While I am not a huge fan of over the top services, like Netflix and Hulu, I do realize it is the way of the future so not having the ability to have those services and features in a seamless experience within Media Center just sucks.

    For me Media Center since Windows 7 has been rock solid, I have gone months on end without having to reboot it or mess with it. My setup for the most part is a “server/client” setup. I have my HTPC in a closet mounted in a rack, out of the way, and each tv has an xbox 360 slim (recently replaced all my arcade units for the slim). So while I don’t get true MKV and other codec support on the extenders, I do get seamless multi-room tv, which is 99% of what I use media center for.

    To get Media Center so stable, I don’t install any unnecessary plugins/addons, I don’t install codec packs or anything that isn’t needed. Lastly, which is huge for me, but will make people go crazy is I don’t do windows updates on a regular basis. Every 6 months or so I will spend an evening going through and seeing what updates are unnecessary and then install them but I don’t let windows do automatic updates, I don’t let it install anything without me saying so. Doing it this way allows me to control what go into the system and make it stable like a “server” should be. I am going on a 3 month up-time on my Media Center “server” and haven’t had to touch it one bit, have never missed a recording, and haven’t had anything prevent my family from using it as a CE device instead of a PC device.

    So while some people may have stability issues, I honestly thing that is because it was all the crap and unnecessary addons/software that was installed.

    In the end I can see what Ben and others may see Media Center days are numbered, I still don’t think there is anyone that can touch it for what it does. While Ben is willing to spend the money on a solution like Tivo, or Direct TV, I refuse to pay money on a monthly basis for hardware to watch tv, I can not and will not do that ever again, which is why solutions like Tivo are out of the question for me.


    • Ben Drawbaugh says:

      I’m sure my MC was unstable because of add-in etc, but then again, isn’t that one reason people love MC so much? I just re-installed last weekend and only install DTB add-in so we’ll see how long I can make it without a crash.

      The lack of good OTT is a concern, but this is something that no one is doing (well) on a DVR. The cable co’s probably won’t ever let you integrate OTT. TiVo is the closest to a complete solution, but the OTT apps are really long in the tooth. Sure, on-demand is the future, but that isn’t now, so I’m not terribly concerned with it, for now.

      And just for the record, TiVo’s monthly fees are optional. I can buy a TiVo Elite for $1000 with lifetime service, which is pretty close to what most pay for a high-end HTPC. DirecTV on the other hand might not be an option for me, because as I research it doesn’t appear they will sell you anything and the idea of their “lease” bothers me.

  38. Josh Shenkle says:

    IF and only IF I could get 4 OTA and 4 CC tuners with 1TB+ disc space and no monthly fees than I’d consider a Tivo. I’m not like most users but I don’t want to be limited on available tuners either.

    also that is a great point about life time, and it being a single one time cost, I keep forgetting about that. So time will only tell about their “extender” model and if it comes out.


  39. Ben Drawbaugh says:

    This is all dependent on their extender being good. The other thing about the Preview is it has a tuner in it. This is good because it helps it scale, but bad because it requires more CableCARD rental fees. It also includes MoCA which means it will be more obtainable to those without CAT5 in their house.

    But while the Elite has 2TB, it does not have OTA tuners, so you are limited to 4 tuners in the DVR and then a tuner in each Preview. This would be plenty for me, but host not willing to record non-big4 shows the second time they air 3 hours later, could be in for some conflicts.

  40. Jon Deutsch says:

    Hey guys – just to add a bit of context to the reliability discussion. I think I have just about every plug-in/add-in you could imagine (except commercial skip). And I even flip back and forth between WMC, Boxee, XMBC and Hulu all the time (via plug-in shortcuts). And I never have to reboot the thing. At least in the 3 months of having my system built from scratch.

    I think the 8GB RAM and 64bit OS make a big difference here. My 32bit/3GB RAM system was far less reliable.

  41. Richard Emerson says:

    I’m glad I decided to read this whole conversation, I too am in crisis about the state of WMC. My wife and I decided to completely gut our home an remodel from the ground up. As a user of WMC and 1st, the ATI Cable Card Tuners, followed by my current Ceton setup, I have gone through all the pains of WMC and find it a stable platform for my TV consumption. Since I have moved out of my home to an apartment that had only DirecTV service, I find that I really miss my WMC with Recorded TV HD. Even my wife, who used to get frustrated at my “tinkering” as I was learning how to setup Vista WMC and the ATI Cable Card Tuner, commented how she was looking forward to getting back to our familiar Windows 7 WMC TV experience (with an added HD Home Run Prime).

    I am now at the point that my electrician and network installers wiring my home and I had to decide between Tivo, DirecTV, and my legacy WMC setup. With all the conversations I had with the local DirecTV folks and reading all the doom and gloom about the future of WMC, I still prefer my familiar and stable WMC infrastructure again in my upgraded home.

    I still can figure out why no one at Microsoft can figure out how to bring this product out of the shadows and show it’s capabilities to the masses. It is a much better product in terms of stability with the introduction of Windows 7. The fact that three companies now produce cable card tuners would make someone think these companies felt there is some type of future in WMC and TV consumption. I’d like to hear what Ceton or Silicon Dust think about their Cable Card product line future if WMC is destined to fade away in the not too distant future. I would think Ceton especially, since they are close to Microsoft, should have some assurances and/or guidance about Microsoft “big picture” roadmap of WMC or it future incarnation.

    I think WMC is a good product that was poorly positioned and marketed. I’ll stick with it as long as possible and continue to support developers of products such as Ceton, Silicon Dust, My Movies, Recorded TV HD, My Channel Logos, etc. as they make the product better

    • Ben Drawbaugh says:

      I feel you man. The only thing I’d add is that with DirecTV’s single wire technology (SWM) the wiring should be the same no matter who you decide to go with.

  42. Lithium630 says:

    Still thinking of a Tivo? 🙂

  43. Jon Deutsch says:

    Ben – see this?

    No details, but the fact that they’re talking about “discovery services” built-in to their custom WMC interface sounds quite promising.

    Better than TiVo?

  44. Jon Deutsch says:

    re: prior post:

    OK, I can’t delete a comment, so at least let me blush out loud. I now see that you yourself are the author of said article. So, it occurs to me that it’s quite likely that you have, indeed, seen it.

  45. sunshine mars says:

    Maybe you should check out the Hopper from DISH. This DVR has 2 terabytes of space and you can truly pause, record, rewind, fast forward live and recorded TV on any TV! You can record 6 shows independently. Since I started working for DISH, this is the best DVR I have seen. There is even a neat remote locator feature. I can’t wait till it’s available.

  46. Thomas M says:

    In my eyes, WMC lacks one simple thing: A software extender mode. With Windows 8 being able to run on ARM, this would enable to run very powerful extenders that can do anything a normal windows can on cheap one-chip boards such as Raspberry PI. Probably a bit more powerful chip (Tegra 2/3) is needed, but you get the idea. Such a soft-extender would be perfect: Place a small server with the TV-cards anywhere (doing the recordings), and let the soft extenders access the tuners and the guide.
    That brings me to another thing that MS is not getting right: Windows home server should be able to act as media center tuner/recording station. Would be a perfect setup: Cheap ARM soft-extenders + Home server with tuners.

    Ben: regarding your wish for a two-way remote interface: vmcMote HD lets you manage all the music in WMC from your iPad. No need to run the TV to select music: Library browsing, Cover wall, Now playing queue, …

    Regarding the WMC SDK: It’s slow and a lacking a lot of functionality. It was a pain to implement some things in there, also gave up on some ideas because of its weakness. Furthermore, the interfaces are pretty outdated concept wise. I do not have much hope that MS gets it concept, performance and functionality wise right in Windows 8 🙁

  47. Anthony says:

    Sometimes I don’t understand the complaining about Media Center and its short comings, plus the belief MS has stopped all development and that W8 has basically the same MC experience as Vista and Windows 7. How many times has MS stated that the consumer preview is NOT even the beta or RC of Windows 8. So STOP jumping to conclusions. HTPC parts prices have gone down, processing and power have GONE UP.

    There still too many people uninformed about this feature in W7, never mind all the people that buy Windows Ultimate for reasons I fail to understand if all your doing it playing games and browsing Facebook. Then in the same breath complain how much disk space Windows takes up and not even using a 1/3rd of its features.

    I think the Windows 8 SDK will be better suited for Tablet Use AND Media Center frankly. Remote Potato covers remote scheduling and mobile playback.

    Tivo’s I find limited and is not officially supported in either direction. So how you going to watch streaming content? Not everything I want to watch can be found on Direct TV period. If I wanted to fire up Challenge of the Go-Bots, you’re not going to find it on Direct TV. I shouldn’t have to put a DVD into another STB either given the technological advances.

    Windows Media Center with all its faults for people that want as many options as possible is the best option. STB are designed for people that want to watch one media mostly. They are adding a TV tuner to Boxee but currently it will only support Over The Air HD. I’m sure it will have some sort of PVR feature. Great, but if you don’t watch much network TV (like me) then this is not worth the investment to make the change over.

    Linux has a wealth of options because its open source, BUT it doesn’t support my tuner cards (Cat’s Eye and ATI/AMD) and doesn’t support cable cards if the content is flagged, if you have Time Warner, name something that isn’t flagged as protected content? lol

    While streaming has matured, they are embracing everything but Windows Media Center.

    What I have decided to do is combine what Windows does best which is the PVR experience and what Linux does best which is streaming content and much more “pretty” GUI for video files (Movies, TV Shows), torrents and newsgroups downloads.

    I have a WHS 2011 now and as it expands (currently 4TB) will be the central depository for all my media going forward. I don’t need it to do any direct recording. That would be a welcomed option in a whole home system, but I’ll wait for those options to mature more and when I move out of the parents home again.

    Having game consoles everywhere is not what I would call a solution.

    • Ben Drawbaugh says:

      Typically the release of Windows is nearly identical to the consumer preview. Microsoft even went so far as to not call it a beta in order to ensure people wouldn’t expect their feedback would be considered for the final product. The reality is that the team that worked on Media Center doesn’t exist anymore so there is no reason to think MS is still developing it.

  48. Mike J says:

    Have you actually stopped using Windows Media Center?

    I can tell you that they’ll have to pry my WMC HTPC from me before I’ll stop using it.
    (Still rocking it as a whole home DVR, using 3 Xbox 360’s as extenders)